Making a Bunka-style sloper

· sewing ·

I have been wanting to buy a couple of the Pattern Magic pattern cutting books for a while. The author, Tomoko Nakamichi, is a professor at the Bunka Fashion College in Japan. These books distil the methods taught at the school for creating slopers, and adds her wonderful creativity, playfulness and incredible ability to wrangle fabric into improbable forms. They have fairly recently been translated into English, but I wanted to take a look inside one before committing to a purchase. Last week, I managed to find copies in Waterstones, and instantly blew a book token I had been hoarding since my birthday on buying the first and second books.

The patterns in the book are based on the so-called ‘Bunka sloper’ as a starting point, and the instructions and figures in the book show you — with incredible precision and economy1 — how to alter the sloper to get the designs depicted. There was only one problem: the Bunka sloper is based on the average body dimensions of young Japanese women, and my middle-aged Western body is very far from that kind of shape (more’s the pity). Would the sloper work for me?

Pattern Magic 1 cover

The development of the Bunka sloper and the corresponding dress form that the college produces is very interesting. They 3D scan large numbers of young women and produce an ‘average form’ that tracks any changes in anatomy of the population. You can see from the image comparing a traditional form with the Bunka form that the shape is much more realistic, and captures the sway back and slightly rounded shoulders that I would guess are a product of most of us having more sedentary, computer-based jobs (or hunching over phones). This gave me some hope that the sloper might work well for me, because those are fitting issues I have encountered when drafting a bodice sloper myself.

Bunka sloper

The sloper design is very interesting, and uses only three body measurements: circumference at the fullest part of the bust, at the waistline, and the length of the back (to the waist) at the centre back. All the other dimensions to be drafted are calculated from these measurements. This is quite different from the sloper I made, which used a long list of measurements that were used directly in drafting the sloper. However, I was still concerned that my measurements put me a long way outside the range of sizes that the sloper is designed to fit, and I wasn’t sure if it would be an extrapolation too far. Still, I was deeply curious about it, and decided that I would give it a try. Even if it didn’t fit, I would still have learned a different way to draft a sloper.

The book gives you a table of calculations derived from the three body measurements, and the diagrams you see above, and that’s more or less it. Now, I love a spreadsheet, so I created one to automatically calculate all the measurements (including dart widths) before I started drafting. This helped a lot to keep things straight, and also acted as a kind of sanity check that the various values seemed reasonable given the examples calculated for slim Japanese women. Interpreting the drafting diagram was an excellent brain workout, but once you understand the symbols used, it’s actually a beautifully economical way to represent the steps needed, while showing you the finished article. The sloper has quite unusual dart placements, with the bust dart opening to the armhole on the front (rather than the side seam) and two waist darts, one of which ends on the bust dart leg. The back also has two waist darts, a shoulder dart, and a skinny but long dart up the centre back, which conforms to the shape of the lower back.

I cut the pattern out of some spare sheeting, and sewed it up, which was fun, because you all know how much a love a dart. Incredibly, it was an almost perfect fit as drafted: remember, I am well outside the range of sizes for which it was intended, so this suggests to me that it was designed with enormous skill. There is (intentionally) more ease built into the sloper than other sloper designs I have come across, so it isn’t intended to be skin tight like a moulage, but to follow the form closely but comfortably. The shape around the torso was perfectly fitted, and the back and shoulders miraculously fitted my shape precisely. Even the shoulder seams ran straight down the middle of my shoulder (this almost never happens with bought patterns or clothing), the side seams were straight, and everything was very smooth and tidy. The waistline was also at the correct height for me, which is usually another thing I have to alter. Really the only thing I might change in a future draft is to lower the bust point (and the bust dart) by about 1cm, and shift the point of the waist dart below it by a corresponding amount. Even that isn’t strictly necessary, because it fits so well, but if you’re going to get it right, you might as well try to get it perfect.

Pattern magic 1 designs

I can’t wait to try some of the designs. The book includes some really avant-garde stuff (like the 3D cubes on the cover photo) that are not very wearable outside the catwalk, but the point is to stimulate the creativity, and show you how you can achieve some very technical designs. Other designs are extremely wearable, or you can use elements of them to make a simple garment really unusual. I absolutely love the origami-like Bamboo shoot in the image above, as well as the two collar designs at the bottom of the page.

Pattern magic 2 designs

The second book has some mind-bending but beautiful ‘vanishing’ designs, like a tie that merges seamlessly into the fabric of the bodice, or a lapel that does a similar disappearing act. I saw a similar design to the vanishing tie bodice a while ago, and was instantly fascinated by it. At first glance, it just seems like a shirt collar and a tie, but then you look more closely and see that it is completely integrated and want to know how it is done. I can’t wait to give some of these a try — they have the interesting design details that I love to wear, and the challenge of translating the terse design drawings into actual patterns scratches my itch to figure things out.

  1. It’s a bit like a diff file, for the programmers and git users among my readers, but it’s a graphical representation of the changes needed to transform the original version to the new version. ↩︎